The regional identifiers for whisky are often thought of as encompassing certain characteristics or a general style of whisky produced within each region/locality1 but has this maybe become a little bit anachronistic given the range of whisky styles now available? The current, and far more prosaic SWA regulations define the ‘protected region’ of Speyside by identifying it with some of the political ward boundaries established by the Moray and Highland (Electoral Arrangement) Orders 2006 (Zzzz…). Personally I prefer an alternative definition as being those distilleries that are located on or overlooking the banks of the Spey or one of its tributaries (that should just about avoid me being run out of Dufftown the next time I visit :/).
Regardless of how we define the region, after the long trail up the west coast and round the north of
|Classic field of barley photo, every whisky blog should have one|
Hehe – and I had the temerity to consider the old whisky spirit of Hector McDram as being well past his sell-by date. Oops! Anyway, dreaming aside (or was it dramming that conjured the above notion?) these stations in the land are there for us to witness all along the winding lower course of the Spey and in the hills and glens above, with a trail weaving between them for us to follow if we seek to offer homage at each place of rest.
The first centre that we reach around which these distilleries have gathered is Rothes - a small town with a population of around 1200 people (1400 when Barnard visited) and a busy wee place with the main road north to Elgin passing right through it. There are five distilleries to consider here (four working and one ghost) and I enjoyed great hospitality at three of them. The staff at the visitor centre in the town were also very welcoming and helpful and they found for me a book titled Rothes 2001 and ‘Oor Young Days’ that helped with some of the local information included in my reports.
|Across Rothes golf course to the River Spey loop north of the town|
From Rothes my own journey will travel in the opposite direction, cutting a long thin wedge southwest to the very centre of the Highlands, following the Spey upstream as far inland as Kingussie and visiting famous distilleries on both sides of its banks and in the glens beyond. The whisky trail then turns sharply back in a roughly northeast direction that passes to the east of Ben Rinnes, loitering at Dufftown and Keith for a while (if they’ll still let me!) before once more reaching the shores of the Moray Firth.
|Strathspey looking north; the end of the current Strathspey Railway in foreground|
I am convinced that our particularly ferocious Highland midge, Culicoides impunctatus (or minutus bastardious) carries with it a flask of nasty moonlight hooch to wash off the Avon ‘Skin so soft’ cream that was applied as midge protection (don’t laugh, the army swear by it!). They then use a sharp sgian dubh to pierce your veins and feast on the juices within. I must have too much blood in my whisky-stream as I seem to be particularly prone to the little blighters - must remember to top up with a dram before venturing into the Highlands in future. Or maybe they are after the taste of good malt whisky and it’s easier to bite through my soft white flesh to find it than it is to bang their head off a solid oak cask. Hmmm, dilemma!
|Aberlour railway station, now the Speyside Way Visitor Centre|
I will save further talk of these laws and illicit dealings for when we reach the well known story of Glenlivet; one should ken when to bide one’s tongue on these delicate matters! Railways, rogues and beasties aside it is time to move on to the Rothes distilleries - stories of whisky, fairies, gardens and ghosts (oh yes!), perhaps with a dram of Glenrothes, Speyburn, Glen Grant, Caperdonich or Glen Spey if you have any to hand.
1 The SWA regulations identify a total of five either protected localities (Campbeltown and Islay) or protected regions (
, Lowland and Speyside). Campbeltown and Speyside are defined by electoral boundaries, Islay as the island of that name, and the famous old ‘Highland Boundary Line’ was all but redrawn (although not, sensibly, by name, preferring the more mundane “line dividing the Highland region from the Lowland region”) along a prescribed route starting in the North Channel between Scotland and Ireland and then roughly from Greenock to the North Sea beyond the Firth of Tay. Highland